Ukraine's 'supertank' is still on the prowl. But the country needs more of them

Ukraine's 'supertank' is still on the prowl. But the country needs more of them
Image via Shutterstock.

As with most days this week, it’s nearly impossible to understand what’s happening in Bakhmut. So take everything that follows about the situation in that area with a full cup of salt.

Bakhmut area. Open image in another tab for a larger look.

According to pro-Russian sources, Wagner Group mercenaries have moved up from the Optyne area into streets along the south end of Bakhmut proper. Videos have been posted that appear to confirm the presence of Wagner forces in this area.

On the east side of Bakhmut, there doesn’t seem to have been any real change in position with Russian forces still noted along the road to the east and moving toward “the winery.” For all the fighting that took place in this area, it’s becoming increasingly irrelevant to the outcome in Bakhmut.

Russian forces are also reported to have moved into portions in parts of both Pidhorodne and Paraskoiivka, though neither area has been overrun. Repelling the Russian movement in this area is critical to Ukraine’s hold on Bakhmut. Should Paraskoiivka be occupied, it would give Russia control of the highway junction north of the city, which is now the only major supply route for troops and equipment moving into or out of Bakhmut. What Ukraine does now, it heavily affected by how well it’s able to hang onto that location.

Meanwhile up the road at Kreminna, Ukraine is reporting Russian attacks repelled near Nevske and Makiivka. The fact that both attacks were repelled is certainly a good thing, but that they happened at all generates a lot of questions.

Kreminna area. Open image in another tab for a larger view.

For better than a month now, Ukraine has controlled the crossroads east of Ploshchanka and the highway down to Chervonopopivka. At times, Ukraine has challenged Russian positions at Holykove, as well as attacking south into Zhytlivka.

This northern axis of the battle for Kreminna represents an important tactical position, not just because it gives Ukraine another angle from which to assault Russian positions in the occupied city, but because it prevents Russian forces from moving materiel and troops along the highway between Kreminna and Svatove.

Does the report of attacks on Nevske and Makiivka mean that Ukraine has lost its positions on the P66 highway? It would seem that way. However, Russia has long held a position in the wooded area northwest of Kreminna, using that location in the past to strike to the south at Ukrainian positions in Dibrova. It’s possible that, rather than moving up the highway, Russian forces moved out of that little “red nose” northwest of Kreminna to make their assaults near Nevske and Makiivka.

However, the most reasonable assumption would seem to be that Russia’s “big push” out of Kreminna has succeeded in regaining control over the highway area, even if it hasn’t apparently displaced Ukrainian forces in the woods south of Kreminna. An earlier attempt by Russian forces to move directly west was apparently dampened (literally) by the same mud that has made this such a difficult approach for Ukrainian troops over the last month.

Pro-Russian bloggers are spending this Saturday engaging in the count of a lot of unhatched chickens. Right now, the plot goes like this: Russia displaces Ukraine from Bakhmut, forcing Ukraine to move to defensive positions to the west. That leaves a line of Ukrainian positions on the current front line — including Spirne and Bilohorivka — hanging in the wind. Ukraine then drops back to at least Siversk, if not another ten kilometers to the west. This means that the forces on the south side of Kreminna can no longer be supported and … bing, bang, boom, Russia is back in Lyman.

They’re already celebrating as if this has happened, but at the moment … none of it has happened. The sheer number of Russian forces on the front lines, and the relatively better equipment and training of those forces as reported over the last few weeks, is certainly not encouraging. But there seems to be no reason to assume that Ukraine is about to surrender larger areas, even if Russia does finally manage to reach Bakhmut a year into their invasion.

CNN has more on the amazing life, and tragic loss, of volunteer Pete Reed.

Reed started his humanitarian career working after Superstorm Sandy hit his home state of New Jersey, according to the biography pages on the Global Response Medicine and Global Outreach Doctors websites. Reed led medical teams during the Battle for Mosul in Iraq, treating over 10,000 trauma patients, according to the websites.

Reed died helping to evacuate civilians from Bakhmut. He was just 33.

A couple of assistance packages back, the U.S. included a line item for “8 patrol boats” for Ukraine. It’s one of those easy things to scan past, and the use of the term “boat” rather than “ship” could give the impression of something with an outboard and just enough room to paint “harbor patrol” across the bow. But this feature from KING 5 television in Bremerton, WA shows these boats under construction, and they’re a long way from what you might think. It’s worth getting past the ad to see what these things are like. To begin with, they are 85’ long, sleek, and fast.

These boats seem ideal for not just racing along the Black Sea coast, but cutting among the islands on the Dnipro River to deliver special forces, escort barges, or take out attempted crossings by Russian forces.

We’ve had a few notes in the past about Ukraine’s homegrown T-84 tank. Ukraine made this tank based on the Soviet T-80, but it’s more than just an updated version of the old tank like the many versions of the T-64 or T-72. It’s the result of plans that were in the works at the end of the Cold War, and which included a new welded turret to replace the old cast turrets still used on the T-80. It has a new, more powerful diesel engine and a new transmission that’s designed to make it faster and more agile forward, in reverse, and when spinning in place. It also has much more modern electronics giving it a better view range. On paper at least, it’s a much-improved tank.

Ukraine began cranking them out in 1994, and has actually exported the tanks to militaries in several nations. At one point, the tank was even marketed as the “T-84 Supertank” to highlight its improvements over the T-80.

T-84U Oplot. Ukrainian-made main battle tank review. Why tanks still matter?

But even though it sold the tank to others (including selling four examples to the United States), Ukraine’s fiscal issues made it hard to build a significant number of T-84 tanks for its own use. There may have been as few as six of the tanks in Ukrainian service when Russia invaded. Ukraine was also working on a version of the T-84 that used NATO standard ammo, and at least one of these tanks—called the T-84-120—was demonstrated near the factory in Kharkiv. Several may have been built. However, many parts of the tank were manufactured at facilities in Crimea, so after 2014 it became impossible to produce more.

If Ukraine had a full compliment of T-84-120 tanks, it’s entirely possible that Western tanks would not have even been on their shopping list. It’s worth watching the video to see how good this tank looks when compared to a T-80.

Right now, Oryx has not confirmed the loss of a single T-84, and there have definitely been videos of the tank in service. How many T-84s are out there, and how effective is it really when facing off with its Soviet-era relatives? We don’t know.

It’s possible I’m including this mostly because of the soundtrack. However, the ineffectiveness of the supposedly elite Russian forces at Vuhledar is somewhat reassuring when compared to all those claims of a big Russian offensive on the way.

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